Earlier this year I was looking at a plan for teaching American History to elementary school kids (something we're doing with our oldest two this year) and I was thrown off to see the September 11th attacks and the War on Terror as topics. Why put that into a history course? That's current events.
Then it struck me that none of my children were born at the time of the September 11th attacks. Indeed, it is as distant from them as the end of the Vietnam War was from me -- something I'd never found it odd to see covered as history. Somehow a lot of time has passed.
I walked in to work at 8:00 AM Pacific Time on September 11th, 2001. Normally I listened to news on the way in, but that morning I hadn't felt like news and so I'd been listening to a CD on the way in.
"I'll bet you'll always remember where you were this morning," my boss said, as I entered.
"Why?" I asked.
"Haven't you heard?"
I shook my head.
"We're at war," he said. "They've blown up the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and who knows what's next. We're at war, but we don't know who with."
I wandered over to my desk, logged onto my computer, and pulled up CNN.com Both towers were already down by 8AM Pacific, but in the chaos of the morning news wasn't always posted on the internet in order or as it happened, and we didn't have access to TV in the office.
Between being three hours off from the events, and not seeing any TV coverage until much later, I found myself feeling a strange distance from all that was going on -- as if it were in some other world. My co-workers wandered around and talked in small clumps. People talked about how their worlds had been turned upside down and life would never be the same -- the customer service pool debated whether the country should bomb Mecca or Baghdad first.
The news that had changed my world forever was when my wife had called me up the previous afternoon (September 10th) and told me that we were expecting our first child. The 11th was my parent's 25th anniversary, and we were scheduled to go out to dinner with them. We'd decided we'd tell them the news over dinner.
When evening came Los Angeles remained jumpy -- that we should somehow not be attacked as well seemed out of keeping with the West Coast mind. Lots of things were closed, and in keeping with the day we decided to have a quiet dinner at my parents house rather than trying to find a restaurant that was open.
Seven years later, our forth child and only boy was born on September 11th, 2008.
Looking back ten years after, I find myself with mixed memories and emotions -- national and familial. Ten years ago, the impact of the horrendous events of the day upon us were blunted by the worries and excitements of a newly married couple who had just learned they were pregnant. Today we attended a ceremony of payer and recollection at our parish after mass, and the parade in town. We celebrated Jack's third birthday. And I found myself thinking a great deal about how my parents would have been celebrating their 35th anniversary today, if my father were still alive.
The conjunction of all these, and my newfound realization that 9-11 is not just "current events" but "history" had me thinking about how much it affected the course of my life that I had found out I was a father the day before the attacks. Five years earlier I'd vacillated for months over whether to join the military (either service academy or ROTC) or simply head off to college, and my decision to stay civilian had been (perhaps childishly) much affected by the appearance half-way through the Clinton administration that the military had been relegated to social engineering experiments and incompetent "nation building". If 9-11 had caught me as a college senior worrying about how what to do when I graduated (and how to support the to-be MrsDarwin), nothing would have seemed more natural or in character than to sign up. As it is, it didn't even occur to me.